What Are Some Of The SSSAS Administrators and Staff Up To?

by Harrison Brown '20

The Coronavirus has hit schools across the nation and planet hard as many have gone to distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, and even starting next year on time is not necessarily a guarantee. Meanwhile, others have opted to go the same route but through a specific date. Distance learning obviously has an impact on teachers and students but what about the other SSSAS faculty? Many, like Dean McGuire, Mrs. Harrison, Ms. Davis, Mr. Mallett, and Mrs. Dyson are administrators whose primary job is not classroom teaching. The Voice talked with them and others to see what they are doing now and how the Coronavirus has impacted their "roles at the school."

Dean McGuire said the Coronavirus has forced her to be online and use email a lot more than at school, where she usually meets face-to-face. "I now find myself meeting quite a bit more with adults discussing policy and that sort of thing. I also spend a lot more time on email. I joked to my sons that all the fun parts have been taken out of my job, and left me with much of the sorts of things I used to enjoy procrastinating! Luckily, I have been able to get things going with some students in SCA (we had an SCA Zoom meeting) and a fun committee. I also got to step into some affinity group meeting space and have enjoyed seeing students that way, as well as some classroom observations."

Dean McGuire’s day consists of a lot of time on Zoom. She told us that while she remains in contact with students "pretty easily," she doesn't feel as connected to them. "I am in this job 100% for the teenagers. I have never wanted to have another role at a school besides school counselor and dean of students, and I've been lucky enough to have both opportunities in my career. I understand school is for academics, that much is clear, but I've always been interested in something really different – how kids are feeling/doing/relating to the world around them. I miss being able to do that frequently throughout the day," she said.

Dean McGuire actually just moved into a new house with her three sons before the pandemic hit the DMV area. She said that a lot is going on with one being a senior in college and two of them working from home. She has had to cook dinner more often but has been able to relax with family walks and game time. 

On how responses to conduct issues have changed due to not being at school, Dean McGuire said, "We have had some conduct issues, and those are the sorts of things where I always meet with a student to discuss, and now I find myself using email and phone calls. Sometimes I have to copy parents on those emails which is definitely efficient, but not the style I would choose to typically use. I think it is a very challenging time, though, so I want to strike a chord of being clear around expectations but also supportive and understanding."

Mrs. Harrison, the school's counselor, told us that her job has changed quite a bit. "I am having to figure out ways to connect with students virtually, which can be a challenge, but I am grateful that technology has progressed to the point where I can see people's faces, and it is not just a phone call," she said.

Her typical day is being on the computer a lot and reaching out to students whom she has seen regularly throughout the year to see how they are doing. She has also been meeting with a lot of other counselors from St. Stephen's and St. Agnes and others to strategize how to help students out. Mrs. Harrison is also in contact with committees to plan some upcoming events.

"Surprisingly, I have discovered that I still feel like I can counsel and advise students effectively through a screen. Zoom works quite well for being able to connect and see facial expressions, body language and affect," she said.

Mrs. Harrison has spent her time at home these past few weeks teaching her three teenagers how to cook and drive. She has spent a lot of time outdoors gardening and walking her dog.

 "I have never experienced anything like it. For some students, believe it or not, it is a relief to not have to go to school and experience social anxiety, and they are more relaxed at home and less stressed," she said on the virus's impact on mental health. "For others, their home life is difficult, and it is hard to be there all the time. For all of us, there is an existential reality about how this is likely to change the world as we know it in the future, so anxiety and/or depression can be triggered or can escalate. The most important thing is if you are struggling please reach out for help. There are many adults who are here to support you."

Like the rest, Ms. Davis (the school’s Director of Institutional Equity and Diversity), has spent a lot of time on Zoom and her email. She plans how to continue giving support and programs virtually. Sometimes, she even gets to attend some virtual meetings with other diversity practitioners around the country or interact with them one-on-one. The most significant difference between regular meetings? No snacks.

"I am doing a lot of research and updating some programs that I do with faculty and staff," she said.

On staying connected with students, Ms. Davis replied, "I have an advisory that I am in close contact with as well as the affinity groups. We will be holding open lunch forums for students so that is a broader way I hope to stay connected. Students have reached out to me and I encourage them to do so. I am also on TXTABOUTIT, which is another way students can reach me."

Ms. Davis told The Voice that she has spent her extra time revisiting how to knit. "Maybe I will have a scarf done when all this is over," she said.

Like the others, Upper School Director Mr. Mallett's day consists of a lot of time on Zoom meeting with faculty and doing some preparation work for his biology class. There is not much of a difference aside from meeting online, of course, compared to ordinary meetings.

"Although we may be out of the building, we are very much 'in school.' Teachers are exceptionally busy transitioning their instruction and content to a distance-learning format. Our work has focused on both academic continuity and community continuity. So much of our school is built from the social connections, and this is difficult given the current circumstances," he said.

Mrs. Dyson, the school's director of service-learning, has seen a complete 180 of her daily life due to the Coronavirus as her day used to consist of interacting with students, faculty, and visitors. Now, all communication is over Zoom, telephone calls, or emails, which she noted has "great efficiency." She is still in charge of the same type of activity, though.  

"I love staying in touch with the students. Most of my communication with them is about service hours, as I try to help them fulfill their service requirements. We are busy helping some students come up with new ideas in this new climate," she said.

Mrs. Dyson has her three kids home and is using all the time at home to learn some new recipes.

"I miss everyone, but I am amazed at how much is getting done without us all being together. I love the flexibility and resilience of our community," she concluded with.

While many think that the biggest hit of the Coronavirus has come to teachers, everyone, including staff, has been impacted by it, even if they are not responsible for distance learning. The virus has and will change the way everyone learns, does their job, and more for months. It is interesting to hear how some of the faculty members have been doing since school closed. While they don't come into our everyday school lives, they still play an essential role in the community.